Wednesday, August 12, 2009

LA Times Is Not a Good Neighbor to Skid Row

This morning I read the article the LA Times published about the murders at the Lamp residential building in the Skid Row community. It is now twelve hours later and I am still wondering what the purpose of the article was. I found out about the article when a former counselor in one of the many Skid Row programs called me to inform me about it. Yes, the article created a stir but not much more. The only thing it did was continue to associate Skid Row with drugs and crime. And yet there is so much more to the community.

The Los Angeles Times and the Skid Row community are neighbors. Skid Row is known as the homeless capital of the United States. There is no other member of the press in the country which is in a better position than the Los Angeles Times to examine the complex forces which culminate in the ever increasing homeless population in a community two blocks away from its headquarters. It can serve as the lightning rod for the Los Angeles community, as well as others, to end this problem. I have said many times, "if you solve the problems of Skid Row, you solve the problems of this country." The LA Times is at ground zero of many of the issues which plague America. It neither examines the negative forces within it, nor reports on the various grassroots movements sprouting within its borders to bring about positive change. Instead, it lowers itself to tabloid journalism and sensationalizes a double murder in community about which it knows nothing.

When was the last time the LA Times talked about Skid Row? Oh yes, I believe it was during the premiere of 'The Soloist' when every mainstream media outlet joined the 'hoopla bandwagon' surrounding the movie. It was not going to be left out of course. But it fails to take the lead in doing an in debt series on a community which is a mirror of many threads which comprise the fabric of America. There is enough about Skid Row, positive and negative to earn its own section in the Los Angeles Times.

The writer singles out the Lamp organization for failing to protect its residents. Let me presume to educate this writer. Drugs are sold and done in practically every building in Skid Row. I am in a position to comment on it. I lived in three Skid Row buildings. In each of them there was a constant battle to keep drugs out. Drug dealers, as well as users are ingenious at devising ways to smuggle drugs into the residential buildings. Every night I hear security guards chatter on the walkie-talkies. They vigilantly report to their supervisors that doors and windows are secured. I currently work in a residential hotel in Skid Row. Among other things, it is my job to monitor the conduct of visitors which enter the facility. I never know if a guest is upset at a person residing in the building. I never know if a guest has a secret agenda of taking revenge for an insult, real or imagined. I never know if a tenant, lucid yesterday, forgot to take his meds today and believes that the world is out to kill him. When that happens, violent behavior can occur at any time. Every manager of a Skid Row building knows who is selling and/or using drugs in it. There is little anyone can do about it unless it is done openly. We cannot search people even when it is obvious they are bringing drugs into a building.

When was the last time a member of the Los Angeles Times staff talked to residents or workers other than during a high profile issue? I talked to General Jeff, Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council board member representing Skid Row, in the beginning of his second year in office. Few people know the various components of Skid Row and how they intersect like he does. I asked him if the writer of the Lamp article has talked to him. "I have never talked to anyone from the LA Times since I was elected as a DLANC board member." Why do they not talk about the many things that are happening in Skid Row? "Walter, they do not want to talk about anything good that goes on in Skid Row!!!" he added.

Skid Row is not a static environment. The nature of the neighborhood is in constant motion as are many of the residents which come and go on a daily basis. I have been a part of the community for a long time. I struggle to understand it and the many challenges it faces. I am here every day and must update myself on the minute changes. And yet, a writer who spends no time in the community-who has no investment in it- publishes a skewed snapshot of it(as if the snapshot of this Lamp facility is an aberration in the community), and, in its wake, Skid Row residents, unnerved, hustle for answers about their safety and the genuine dedication of social service providers to ensure it. When the dust settles, the writer knows no more about the community than he did before the murders took place.

If The Los Angeles Times spent any time gardening in its backyard, it would learn that many beautiful things are growing in Skid Row; the Skid Row Photography Club, Film Club, 3on3 Streetball League and the newly formed Skid Row Bureau of Journalism. These grassroots organizations serve to uplift the self esteem of the residents. Stories about those organizations may encourage people in the city, starving to find ways to help, to contribute their talent and or results to further progress. Instead, articles like the one published this morning, have the residents feeling bitter; their community is only featured when the stories can give an "Oh My God" reaction from the readership. Moreover, people are scared to become involved.

People who live in Skid Row have so little but give so much to each other. America needs to learn more about the quality of this community. The spirit of giving and caring blankets the environment. Thr, e LA Times, which has so much, gives so little attention and help to its neighbor. It reminds me of the 1960's character Mrs Kravitz in the sitcom Bewitched. Mrs. Kravitz would either visit the Stevens house only when she wanted to dig up some dirt or sneak across the street and peer through the Stevens' blinds until she saw something. Then she would run back across the street screaming and yelling until she could find anyone to whom she could gossip about her latest discovery. ,

The LA Times, not taking the lead in shedding light on the myriad of complex forces that plague Skid Row, and thus, America, should just run back across the street to its big building and draw down the blinds and hide in fear of its neighbor until it has the guts to come out and discover the people of Skid Row are like the bear, Gentle Ben. Until it does and begins to report about Skid Row in an active effort to bring change, it will only sound like the gossipy Mrs. Kravitz.


 

9 comments:

Andrew said...

Hey Walter!
This is Andrew from the Amar Collective. I sent you an e-mail 2 or 3 days ago about using some of your posts for our magazine, and since then I've subscribed to the blog and I'm fast becoming an avid reader.

As someone who has been networking and doing what I can to help out in the Skid Row community for the past few months, I've had the opportunity to meet amazing people like General Jeff, Coach Ron, OG, Michael Blaze from the Skid Row Photo Club, and a slew of other inspirational figures that deserve recognition for the work they do around here. Needless to say, I was similarly disturbed by their two-dimensional depiction of the kind of stuff that is going on in Skid Row right now... and the fact that they singled out The Lamp Community as somehow culpable in this whole situation just makes me feel like they lack a fundamental understanding of what's going on down there. Reading your response to this article gave words to the feelings that I couldn't quite express, so I am indebted to you. Is it ok if I repost this on facebook and twitter and other social networks and such?

Anyway, I will be in touch with you soon about what articles we'd like to use in our little magazine, but beyond that I really want to learn more about the Skid Row Bureau of Journalism. That sounds completely amazing. When would be the best time of day to call you?

Take care!!
Andrew from Amar
http://www.amarcollective.com

skidrowscribe said...

Thank you for your kind words. And yes you can share the posts as you wish. I also replied to your email you sent and it was a very gracious letter. Thank you

Robert Dhondrup said...

Walter,

I think alot of the LA Times problems also arise from the drastic cuts it has made - the quality of the reporting and editing has markedly changed for the worse. If anything, if anyone really looked for quality reporting of news or events these days in Los Angeles - they would be looking for blogs and websites such as yours.

Anonymous said...

......but still, drug dealing and a double homicide in housing for mentally ill that should be a safe place....it's a story that needs to be told.....the bad can't be just swept away like garbage in the street......

baked573 said...

On a street corner in downtown Los Angeles. Backpack strapped to my back and eagle eyes scanning the grounds for a feast. The feast of heroin is all I care about. I pitch in a dollar with a guy worse off than I am for a small joint. We smoke in his cardboard box. He’s got pin-ups on the flimsy walls of the box, a bucket to piss and shit in and a pile of stuff which to him are his valuables. A plastic cup, a thin silver chain, assorted clothing and hats, matchbooks and other trinkets. We smoke the pinner while his neighbor, also in a box, blares some music from a small radio. Cops stroll past, but never take a second glace. This is skid row. The bottom of the bottom. This is where dreams end and become fantasies and nightmares. And this is where I choose to be. Why? Because someone around here has heroin. And I’m going to find it. I don’t have much money, but that’s never made a difference before. I’ll find something to barter with. I still have my cell phone, that’s got to be worth at least three balloons. Just yesterday I was sitting in rehab reading the big book. The bible of the AA program. The most boring read I’ve ever laid my eyes on. It was written by a couple of guys back in the 1930’s. You’d think they would have updated it a bit by now.

Dallas Cowboys said...

The LA TIMES is bad news.

Ginny-Marie said...

Walter - on point. great post!

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Anonymous said...

Just did a tour with General Jeff... thank you for your insightful comments and our ignorance about a community of people who really do help each other out... I am just a beginner in learning about a culture I did not even know existed... thank you for educating us and enlightening us of a community that is rich in potential and promise if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. sumobobby